The preexisting pandemic known as chronic disease

The COVID pandemic would be little more than a bad flu season in a healthy population. It would barely make the news. Without Type 2 Diabetes, obesity, arterial disease and other chronic conditions, the mortality rate, the strain on our health care system and the devastation to our society would be far less. 

We had a preexisting pandemic of chronic disease. We know diabetes and arterial disease are caused by sweets, starches, snacks and sitting but we have not quarantined these agents of disease. Maybe we will. 

As a society, our processed food intake is wrong for human bodies. Our ancestors survived the hunter gatherer way of life that preexisted drive-thrus and addictive processed foods.

Chronic disease makes us vulnerable to all kinds of threats, especially a novel virus that is highly transmissible and triggers a vigorous immune response. When tissue is inflamed by chronic disease and then triggered further by a virus it has never seen before, the "fire" is far worse.

Be engaged and empowered. Make yourself safer by becoming the opposite of vulnerable: more resilient and resistant. Eat your vegetables, hydrate, exercise, avoid sweets, starches, snacks and sitting, no matter how much short-term "comfort" you feel from its addictive dopamine kick. It just isn't worth it. Get more sleep, less salt and less screen time.

Pray for and appreciate those who care for our communities, the health care workers and first responders. They can rescue you, but only you can prevent the "forest fire" lit by COVID. Make their jobs easier by not needing them. And "I don't care if I get sick and nobody else should have a say" works only if you are not going to seek care. If you are going to seek care, it matters to the rest of us too. 

Lost in much of the news coverage is the plight of our dental and hygiene colleagues. They are an essential service, but the risk of that service to spread droplets is a concern for providers and patients. They face a difficult future. Their work force is exposed to aerosolized droplets with every patient. They can't convert to teledentistry easily.

Their role in oral and overall health is essential, particularly in making up for our self-care failures.

So, floss, pick, brush and otherwise follow their advice for gum care better than ever. Periodontal disease is a chronic disease that increases the risk of pneumonia, worsens diabetes and heart disease, and it can be reversed. Dentists will struggle to provide the care they have provided, so work with your dentist to find the safest way possible to get the preventive care that will increase your resilience and resistance and therefore your safety. If they offer a membership, do it. Support them. We need them. 

Recognize that our public officials deserve our support and the benefit of the doubt. They are imperfect humans doing the best they know how with imperfect information. Don't judge an action based upon hindsight and subsequent knowledge or communication style. Optimal safety measures from COVID risk the public health consequences of lower standards of living. Debate is healthy, but your political nemesis might actually figure out an effective plan with better information than the rest of us have.

Finally, shame on those who flaunt common sense, who inflame with rhetoric and writing, who are unkind and just plain self-centered. This isn't about any one of us. It is about all of us.

Craig A. Backs, M.D., is a Springfield physician and executive medical director of The Center for Prevention.

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